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Movie Review: Sanctum (3D) (2011) February 4, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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I seriously went into Sanctum thinking it was James Cameron’s next big 3D project after Avatar.  But be warned: it’s not.  I only discovered during the end credits that Cameron only acted as an executive producer and was neither the director nor a writer on this action-thriller about ‘cave diving’ explorations.

Never mind.  High expectations or not, Sanctum was okay — but certainly not a groundbreaking or memorable film.

Directed by Aussie Alister Grierson (Kokoda, winner of 3 Tropfest awards) and written by Aussies John Garvin and Andrew Wight, Sanctum is very much an ‘Aussie’ film.  It features a cast of predominantly Australians (with the exception of Richard Roxburgh, no one you would know unless you watch Aussie soap TV), with a couple of Americans (Ioan Grufford — Mr Fantastic from the Fantastic Four and Alice Parkinson) thrown in for good measure.  But on the whole, despite the healthy budget, it does have a distinct Aussie feel throughout.

Contrary to what I had hoped for, Sanctum is a nature-based thriller that doesn’t feature any monsters lurking in the unknown.  It’s supposedly ‘inspired’ by a true story involving co-writer Wight, who almost died whilst exploring a huge network of underwater caves.

I won’t give away much more than that, though I won’t really be spoiling much since the plot follows a pretty familiar trajectory for ‘disaster’ films of this sort.

On the bright side, I will say Sanctum is quite an interesting idea, and there are some decent moments of action and suspense.  However, like some of James Cameron’s films, the dialogue is somewhat cringeworthy (at times), and the attempts at character development aren’t exactly subtle.  The fact that the acting wasn’t top notch didn’t help.

As for the 3D (the film is only released in rip-off 3D), it wasn’t worth it.  The only times when the 3D mattered was during long shots of the caves, where the effects gave you a sense of just how deep they were.  But apart from that, it did little to enhance the viewing experience.

To sum it all up, Sanctum is a slightly above average, occasionally enjoyable though unncessary long film (109 minutes) that didn’t need to be in 3D.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Hurt Locker (2009) February 13, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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The Hurt Locker isn’t a film that jumps out at you as a front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar while you are watching it.  It has the feel of a small-scale film, focused on a specific subject in a specific setting, with largely unknowns in the lead roles.  But don’t let that put you off.  It is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year.

I would call The Hurt Locker an American war suspense-action-thriller.  Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (K-19: The Widowmaker, Point Break – yes, that’s right!  Point Break!), it tells the story of an United States EOD (Explosives Ordnance Disposal) team in post US-invaded Iraq.  To many viewers, it will be a world that is as foreign as Pandora from James Cameron’s Avatar.

The Hurt Locker a cut above most other post-911 war movies for several reasons.

First of all, it is probably the most suspenseful film in recent memory.  The thrills come in waves, but when it comes, the tension is so unbelievably high that it made me forget how to breathe.  Full credit must go to Bigelow, who combines life-and-death situations with documentary-style shooting to create an atmosphere that makes the audience feel like they are right there in the pressure cooker with the EOD team members.

Second, the script by Mark Boal is outstanding.  Boal is a freelance journalist who actually spent time with a bomb squad in Iraq.  This experience, coupled with his ability to create intriguing, well-developed characters, makes The Hurt Locker the most authentic-feeling Iraq war movie to date.

Third, the acting is first class.  The three main leads (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) are considered relative no-names in Hollywood, but all deliver performances that bring their respective characters to life.  Renner (28 Weeks Later) is particularly excellent and is well-deserving of his Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.  He brings a brooding arrogance and obsessive quality to Sergeant First Class William James that makes the already-tense environment even more explosive.  Renner’s face reminds me of a pudgier Jason Bateman, but his screen presence (according to a friend) is reminiscent of a young Mel Gibson (before he went off the rails, of course).

Lastly, I really enjoyed the subtlety of The Hurt Locker.  It may be an anti-war movie at heart, but it doesn’t ram any political messages down your throat.  There’s no American hero bravado or that ‘Americans are evil’ sentiment.  There’s a telling image here and there, but for the most part, you can simply enjoy the movie for its intense action and ignore the underlying message.

Having raved about the film, it isn’t quite perfect.  At 131 minutes, The Hurt Locker is probably 15-20 minutes too long, and partly because of this, the last third of the film isn’t quite as exhiliarating as the first two-thirds.  However, these are only minor complaints in an otherwise superb film.  The only thing really preventing The Hurt Locker from getting full marks from me is that I simply don’t think it is memorable enough.  It may be one of the best films of the year, but it’s unlikely to be one of those classics people will easily recall years down the track.

4.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: I now think The Hurt Locker has a pretty good chance of beating Avatar for Best Picture because of this new preferential voting system.  That said, I’m sticking with my prediction of Avatar for Best Picture.  The one with the bigger chance of an upset could be Bigelow over her ex-husband James Cameron for Best Director.  This is one of those years where voters seem to rally around a cause, and this year the stars may be aligned for the first ever female director to take the prize.]

Avatar causes depression and death January 20, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Entertainment.
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Avatar kills

As James Cameron’s Golden Globe winning Avatar streaks towards the all-time box office record held by Titanic, reports have emerged that the film is actually a dangerous health hazard.

Viewers have found themselves depressed after watching the movie as they realise that Pandora, the beautiful planet on which the story takes place, is actually not real.

Some of the things viewers have said in response to the film include:

“When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed grey. It just seems so meaningless.  I still don’t really see any reason to keep doing things at all.  I live in a dying world.”

“I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora.”

Doctors, psychiatrists and other specialists have all weighed in on the debate.  Some believe it is the amazing realism of the special effects.  Others say it’s because the film is in 3D, so viewers have trouble distinguishing the fantasy world from reality.  A more radical theory is that the blue aliens in the film remind people of giant smurfs. 

The truth however, is much more simple.  It is because these people are idiots.

The damage of Avatar has gone further than just stupidity.  A 42-year-old Taiwanese man recently died from over-excitement after watching the film. 

The man had a history of high blood pressure and had mistakenly walked into Avatar believing it was the latest M Night Shyamalan live-action sequel to Lady in the Water starring Matthew McConaughey.

Okay, that last bit was made up, but the rest of it is all true.

Movie Review: Avatar (2009) December 21, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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How do you follow up the highest grossing movie of all time?

Spend 15 years and more than $230 million dollars to make a technologically groundbreaking blockbuster!  Well, that’s exactly what James Cameron did with his latest sci-fi action masterpiece: Avatar.

In one word, Avatar is a ‘spectacle’.  Do yourself a favour and watch this movie in 3D because it is an unbelievable experience.  While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the special effects were entirely ‘photo-realistic’, it was pretty darn close.  My wife thought some of the computer-generated characters and creatures were partly built with models and make-up (as opposed to 100% CGI), and I’m sure she wasn’t the only one.  The computer-generated alien world was stunningly beautiful, and at times it was impossible to tell whether it was real or not (because some of it was real and filmed in New Zealand).

Without giving away too much of the plot, Avatar is set in a futuristic world on a distant planet called Pandora.  The title is apt but I won’t say anything more than that.  I was very disappointed with the previews, which, as always, gave away waaaaay too much.  Avoid them like the plague.  The film is predictable enough as it is without a start-to-finish synopsis of the entire storyline.  And besides, it really kills the ‘wow’ factor.

Avatar is the first genuine 3D film that I’ve seen.  The purpose of the 3D is to enhance the movie experience, not to act as a gimmick.  In movies like The Final Destination 3D or My Blood Valentine 3D, the 3D was all about making things fly at you at every opportunity, and it gets old quickly.  But in Avatar, it’s there to bring an amazing fantasy world to life, and it really works.  You become immersed in it.  You start to believe it is real.  The excitement becomes more exciting.  The thrills become more thrilling.  The characters become more believable.  It works.

New Aussie superstar Sam Worthington plays the lead character Jake Sully, and it’s easy to see why Cameron picked him (and recommended him for Terminator Salvation) out of thousands of ‘unknowns’ at the time.  He has this unassuming quality about him – an easygoing, down-to-earth disposition that makes it easy for you to root for him.  The rest of the cast is also solid – Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi and Stephen Lang as the imposing Colonel Miles Quaritch.  Each hold their own, though at the end of the day none manage to steal Worthington’s thunder.

I believe the critics have been less harsh with Avatar than they were with Titanic, though there are certain to be cynics out there.  Yes, it’s easy to point to the character designs and say they are a rip-off of the Smurfs (!).  Yes, the dialogue and jokes are cheesy (though some of it is intentionally tongue-in-cheek), it has stock-standard secondary characters, and the plot is entirely predictable.  And yes, it has the audacity to contain thinly-veiled but uninspiring messages about the environment, nature, and political greed (in particular American arrogance and self-righteousness).

But none of that really matters.  Don’t look too far for a deeper meaning when watching Avatar – just enjoy it for what it is – an awesome, utterly spectacular movie experience.  The action sequences, especially the lengthy final climax, are sure to go down as some of the greatest ever.  Despite being almost 3 hours long, I never once looked at my watch – my trusty yardstick for how enjoyable a film truly is.

Just days into its release, Avatar is doing exceptionally well, and may lead to the development of planned sequels, though I’m not sure that’s such a great idea.  That being said, I am already planning a second helping of Avatar – this time, of course, on IMAX!

4.5 stars out of 5!

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